Katherine Johnson, the former NASA mathematician whose journey was showcased in the 2016 movie "Hidden Figures," received a huge gift from the agency that employed her years ago.
The Independent Verification and Validation Facility (IV&V) in Fairmont, West Virginia, has been renamed in honor of Johnson — an African-American woman who led a distinguished career at the agency during a time when race tensions were high and when important roles with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, a precursor to NASA, were filled mainly by men.
“I am thrilled we are honoring Katherine Johnson in this way as she is a true American icon who overcame incredible obstacles and inspired so many,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a news release on Friday. “It’s a fitting tribute to name the facility that carries on her legacy of mission-critical computations in her honor.”
Johnson, who turned 100 years old in August, was played by actor Taraji P. Henson in "Hidden Figures" — a critically-acclaimed film that followed her journey as a human "computer" in the 1950s and '60s, alongside fellow African-American women, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson.
According to NASA, Johnson "calculated the trajectory for Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 mission in 1961." Shepard was the first American to enter space.
"The following year, Johnson performed the work for which she would become best known when she was asked to verify the results made by electronic computers to calculate the orbit for John Glenn’s Friendship 7 mission," the agency said. Johnson then "went on to provide calculations for NASA throughout her career, including for several Apollo missions."
Last year, Congress passed a bill allowing the name change of the facility, which President Trump signed into law on Dec. 11.
Johnson was awarded the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, in 2015 by former President Obama.
The IV&V Facility is home to the IV&V program, which helps assist NASA's "highest-profile missions by assuring the software on those missions performs correctly."
"It’s an honor the NASA IV&V Program’s primary facility now carries Katherine Johnson’s name," Gregory Blaney, the program's director, said. "It’s a way for us to recognize Katherine’s career and contributions not just during Black History Month, but every day, every year."